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Monday, August 15, 2005

"Whisper Down the Lane" Theology

I'm sure you remember this game from when we were kids. A bunch of kids sit in a line, and the first one whispers something to the second one. That one, in turn, turns and whispers what they heard to the third one, who then whispers to the fourth one, etc. The last child in the line then tells what they heard and compares it to what the first one said. Invariably, it is different. Maybe just a little different, but almost never exactly the same.

I have come to the conclusion that the same thing happens with regard to theology and biblical truth. Now, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I'm going to be talking about errors in transmission of the biblical text, let me clarify what I mean. I'm talking about the things that we believe are biblical because we heard it from "reliable sources", and yet haven't studied enough ourselves to find out that what we heard is not entirely accurate.

Let me give you an example that would be humorous if people weren't so serious about it. I have heard several people make the following claim: "In the Bible it says 'Fear not' 365 times. That's one for every day of the year." After hearing that several times, I had the idea that it would be neat to put together a calendar (one of those tear-off kinds with one page for every day) with each of the 365 "fear not" verses on the pages. That way, people could be reminded every day of the year.

So I began searching for the 365 times. Guess what? I couldn't find them! Oh, there are many commands not to fear, to be sure. And frankly, if God says something once, we should pay attention. Yet, I was intrigued by this. I started by searching online Bibles (such as the one on Crosswalk.com) for the phrase "fear not". I found 62 occurrences in the King James. That wasn't even close to 365! I tried searching for other variants of the phrase ("Be not afraid" - occurs 1 time, even the word "fear" by itself only appears 354 times, which includes many references that having nothing to do with telling us not to fear). Still no 365 times, no matter how I tried to slice it.

Finally, I found a website that seemed very confident in its assertion, and I figured the author must have done their own research. So I emailed them and asked them to point me to the 365 references. Surprisingly, I received a very prompt reply. Disappointingly, however, it included this statement: "I'm sorry that I cannot help you find these verses. I, too, have searched for them, and have not found them. But I heard Joyce Meyer make this statement, so I know it must be true."

I kid you not!! From what I can tell, no one has ever actually searched out these 365 verses (and found them, I should add) on their own, but are always taking someone else's word for it. Just because some preacher somewhere said it, you're going to turn around and tell others that it's true? What does this do for the credibility of Christians in this world? I'll tell you what it does. It ruins it!

We run around with this "bumper sticker" theology, making all these outrageous claims, and the world just sits back and laughs. Consider many of the emails that get forwarded around by Christians. Stories of NASA discovering the missing day from Joshua's time. Stories of Soviet workers drilling into hell and hearing screaming. Stories about how certain TV programs are being taken off the air because they mention "God". All of which are untrue, yet continue to this day to be propogated among Christians.

Jesus said that He would give us the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. Part of that guidance comes from the written Word of God which was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But just because we have the Holy Spirit in us doesn't mean that people actually listen to His voice. I have learned that I must listen to what He tells me in order to make sure I'm on the right path. If I am willing to listen to the Spirit (and sometimes even just if I'm willing to use the mind God gave me!), I find that I do not fall prey to these "urban legends" that get so easily passed on from person to person in an awful "whisper down the lane" fashion.

For seven years of my adult life, I sat under the teaching of well-known Bible professors and teachers in Bible college and seminary. And whenever I felt the need to question something that was taught, I often rebuked myself with the thought that obviously, these men and women knew much more than I did, and they had studied much more. So who was I to question them?

Well, now I view it a bit differently. I actually have a responsibility to test what I hear and to sift out what is not true. If anyone tries to tell you not to question them or their "authority" in interpreting Scripture for you, I advise you to run the other way as fast as you can. And if you think that you're being rebellious by questioning what you're taught, you need to realize that it's not rebellion when God gives you that responsibility! Even in Old Testament Israel, the people themselves were given the responsibility to determine if a prophet was true or not. God did not ask them to blindly follow anyone who said "Thus saith the Lord."

In Acts 17:11, the Berean Christians are spoken of positively for checking out what Paul taught and comparing it to the Scriptures. How much more should we test what we hear before repeating it on to others?

I had a friend once who was talking about the idea of being friends with non-Christians in order to build relationships with them that allow you to shine Christ's light into their darkness. This is a biblical concept, so I'm not knocking the basic premise. But his defense of it? "Well, it's like Paul wrote to the Romans: 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do.'" I had to bite my tongue to avoid laughing when I realized that he was completely serious in saying that! I'm not sure which is funnier: That he thought Paul wrote that statement, or that he assumed it must be in the book of Romans!

Let's make sure that we are getting into the Word ourselves, and listening to the Holy Spirit. I have found that much of what we believe and hold to is sometimes mere tradition or something that someone once heard someone else say that someone once said.

Now, if we could just do something about the really awful slogans on church signs...!!

Until next time,

steve :)

3 comment(s):

Thank you, Steve. Well said!

By Anonymous ded, at Tuesday, August 16, 2005 7:51:00 PM  

Steve -- I just found this particular website. I had the exact same experience you did. After hearing the 365 "fear not" statement so many times, I had the same brilliant idea, to catalogue them and make a book or a calendar, and, of course, after much searching, I could not find anywhere near 365. After hearing it yet again recently, I did a search today on the Internet with the words "fear not" and "365". It was amazing how many sites quoted this as truth, and as evidence of God's remarkable loving nature and creativity (but, of course, with no evidence for the claim attached). Only when I added the words "not true" to my search did I come upon your column. Thanks for speaking the truth.

By Anonymous Greg Martin, at Friday, February 17, 2006 1:20:00 PM  

Hey you could still chronicle the actual mentions of Fear Not even if there aren't 365

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Saturday, April 15, 2006 8:57:00 PM  

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